Happy Birthday, America! đź‡şđź‡¸

It is no secret I am a big fan of birthdays and celebrating them! To say the 4th of July is one of my favorite days of the year is an understatement! As someone who grew up in a military family and spent several years working with the military, I show off my American spirit whenever I get the chance. 🇺🇸 So let’s just say, I am more than ready for this birthday party!

As we celebrate our freedom and our country, be sure to sparkle in all the right ways! One standout way to do this is to honor and respect the flag 🇺🇸 Here are my tips on how to do so:

  • Fly the flag all day! Be sure to keep a light on Old Glory when the sun goes down.
    • NOTE: If you are hanging the flag rather than flying it, ensure you display it correctly. Here’s how:

  • Attending a parade, event, or sporting event? When Old Glory passes you, place your hand over your heart and remove any headgear (unless being worn for medical or religious reasons).
  • While it may add to the festiveness of your party, I suggest not using place-mats, table cloths, plates, or napkins that have the American flag on them as a decorative piece. Even though it is not technically a real flag, eating off the flag and the act of wiping your mouth or using the flag to clean your hands is disrespectful.
    • NOTE: A design of stars and stripes is great, I am referring to the actual American flag printed on a serving piece and napkins.
  • A little known fact is that Old Glory “should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.” Rather than wearing the flag, a design of stars and stripes is more appropriate.
    • NOTE: I realize patriotic apparel is trendy in pop culture and will likely continue to be so I encourage you to be thoughtful in your outfit choices. If you do choose to wear apparel displaying the flag, ensure it is displayed in full not draped across you, tattered, or distressed in any way.
  • For even more in-depth (and fast-paced) information on flag protocol, watch this video and refer to this valuable flag protocol information.

Last, but certainly not least, remember and thank the service members who have fought for and are currently serving to protect our freedoms.

Happy Independence Day, y’all! 🇺🇸

AB

Editorial Note: This is a revised version of a previous post. For more tips on celebrating Independence Day, see another original post!

Formal Etiquette: Time to Get Gala Ready!

Today, I am taking a bit of “writer’s freedom” and subscribing to the #ThrowbackThursday movement.

At work, we are preparing for Project Cinderella (click to read about last year’s program)! With everything from a protocol and etiquette seminar to a dress boutique, this is a wonderful program which helps female military spouses and female service members prepare to attend balls/galas, formal ceremonies, and other high-visibility military events.

In conjunction with this event prep, I am re-sharing my 2 articles on Military Ball/Gala protocol and etiquette:

Additionally, there is a way for YOU to get involved! As a part of Project Cinderella, each attendee visits the Dress Boutique and is able to take home a gown! To grow our dress boutique, USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore is collecting new and “like-new” dresses/gowns, shoes, and accessories for cocktail, formal, and black tie events. If you have a gown (or a few!) to contribute, please do so at your closest USO-Metro center/lounge!

Project Cinderella - Dress and Accessory Collection

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

My Experience as a USO Elf

USO_LOGO_Project Elf_Script-01

This article is not related to protocol or etiquette; however, I found this experience so special, I knew I had to share it.

This Holiday Season, I had the privilege of being the Program Manager, or “Head Elf” as some affectionately referred to me, for USO-Metro’s Project Elf. Project USO Elf supports military children of junior enlisted service members, E-1 to E-5, by pairing them with Corporate and Community Wish List Donors who sponsor the children. These Wish List Donors buy the children gifts from their Wish List for the Holiday Season. This year, I am very proud to say USO-Metro supported over 1,200 military children in the Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan region!

While this program was quite an undertaking, coordinating 1,200+ Wish Lists between 2 distribution locations from hundreds of Wish List Donors proved to be no small feat, it is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. Planning for the program started as “Christmas in July” and gained momentum throughout the Fall. The build-up to the program was amazing!

On October 1st, the “North Pole” began receiving Wish Lists from children. The notes I read honestly made my day several times. One of my personal favorites was for a 6 year old girl, “She is girly and happy go lucky, very artistic, loves play dates and gymnastics! She has asked for: stuffed Hello Kitty doll, silver pageant crown & wand, ribbon baton twirler, Frozen Anna dress, sparkly silver Mary Janes, Melissa and Doug craft projects. She also likes Chick-Fil-A, My Little Ponies, and fun sparkly colors of Zoya (nontoxic) nail polish.” How adorable is that?! That is just one of the over 1,200 Wish Lists I received that reminded me of the pure joy and excitement the Holidays bring to children. Come November, Wish Lists were distributed to Donors and they were set loose to hit the stores while I stayed at the North Pole organizing the program logistics!

As soon as December 1st hit, I spent the first week of the month on “Sleigh Stops” visiting our Corporate Wish List Donors and receiving hundreds of Wish Lists from several companies. The level of excitement I saw in these donors and the giving atmosphere the companies built around my program was incredible. One company even had so many employees want to give to the program, that the employees started buying popular gifts for us to add to other children’s gift bags saying, “the more the merrier!” Once all the Wish Lists were collected, my amazing volunteers set-up and decorated the distribution sites.

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Project USO Elf Distribution Site #1 with over 800 Wish Lists ready for service member pick-up!


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Project USO Elf Distribution Site #2 with more than 400 Wish Lists ready for service member pick-up!

When distribution night arrived, I was instilled with an overwhelming sense of calm. That day, I knew all the hard work and long hours I put in were about to pay off – big time! Seeing the smiles and hearing the words of appreciation from service members who received gifts for their children was the only “Thank You” I needed. Realizing we (I would be remiss if I did not thank my amazing USO-Metro teammate and our HUGE volunteer corps. Without the volunteer hours put in by these dedicated, patriotic individuals, my job would not have been possible) had really made a difference in the lives of others was incredible.

This year, the Christmas spirit has not quite “taken hold” of me in my personal life. However, today I realized when over 1,200 military children wake-up tomorrow morning their Christmas wishes will come true thanks to so many generous citizens who wanted to give back and say “thank you” to our service members. Personally, the opportunity to play Santa for these military children has been a privilege and truly an honor. This year, Christmas took on a new meaning for me. I hope to continue to pay it forward to those so deserving of this special program.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all, a Good Night!”

Project USO Elf “Lead Elf”

To learn more about Project USO Elf, please watch Elizabeth Prann’s Fox News coverage of Project USO ElfFor additional photos from Project USO Elf, please visit the USO-Metro Facebook album.

 

Summer Transitions: Military Ceremonies Edition

The summer is typically a very active time in the military community. Many service members are changing duty stations (Permanent Change of Station or “PCSing”) and it is also a very common time for Change of Commands to take place.

This year, the summer is a very exciting time for my family – Next week, my dad is retiring from the United States Navy after 30 years of service. To say I am proud of him is an understatement. I am extremely excited to attend his Change of Command and Retirement ceremony and am looking forward to witnessing all the military traditions which will take place during the ceremony. In honor of my dad’s retirement, this week my focus is on military protocol and proper etiquette while attending military ceremonies.

  1. Arriving at the Ceremony
    • There’s no such thing as being fashionably late in the military. The military is a punctual culture and to them, arriving on time is arriving late.
    • At most ceremonies, there will be a greeter and escorts. At formal ceremonies, there will be reserved seating (by name or by section) for distinguished guests. These guests will be personally escorted to their seats.
      • If you are attending the ceremony as the guest or date of a service member, he should escort you arm-in-arm. Service members are not allowed to hold hands in uniform.
  2. The Ceremony
    • Read the program! An overview of the ceremony and event’s history is typically included as well as the background of your host/officiating officer and guest of honor (their biographies will be in the program).
    • Parading the Colors: Stand while the American and service flag(s) are brought into the room and remain standing while they are present. The National Anthem will most likely be played as well. If so, face the flag with your hand over your heart. If the service’s song is played, you continue to stand, but you do not have to keep your hand over your heart. Do not sit until the colors are retired (paraded out of the room) and you are told to take your seat.
      • This is NOT the time to take photos. You should stand in respect of the flag and the playing of the National Anthem, not be snapping photos of the event while this is happening.
    • Invocation: The Chaplain will say a prayer to begin the ceremony.
    • Speeches and Reading of Orders: Depending on what type of ceremony you are attending, the “Order of Ceremony” can and ceremonial pieces included can vary; however, the Guest Speaker and the Host or Guest of Honor will make remarks. Additionally, if it is a Change of Command, Promotion, or Retirement ceremony, the official military orders will be read.
    • The Ceremonial Traditions (my favorite!):
      •  Side boys: When the official party enters and departs the ceremony, “Two to eight side boys, depending on the rank of the Officer, will form a passageway at the gangway. They salute on the first note of the pipe and finish together on the last note.” (Source: Naval Customs, Traditions, & Etiquette)
      • The Change of Command: The current/outgoing Commanding Officer will read his/her new set of orders followed by the incoming Commanding Officer (CO) reading his/her set of orders to take command. Together, they will approach the Officiating Officer, usually a General/Flag Officer, who will relieve the outgoing CO of his/her duties and confirm the new CO reporting for duty. These steps will be acknowledged by the service members rendering salutes.
      • The Passing of the Flag / “Old Glory”: This is a beautiful ceremony in which the American flag is passed hand-to-hand by individuals representing the ranks the retiree has held while in service. While the flag is being passed, “Olde Glory” is read. For a full (Navy) description, you click here.
      • Reading of “The Watch”: One of the last parts of a retirement ceremony is to read “The Watch.” A junior service member will recite it to symbolize relieving the retiree of his duties and the acceptance of that responsible by those who remain in military service. After this is read, in the Navy, the Sailor “goes ashore” for the last time. To read The Watch, click here.
  3. After the Ceremony
    • If there is a receiving line, be prepared to shake hands (potentially a lot of them) and always go through the receiving line before entering the reception.
      • The host is the first person you will meet followed by the co-host, if there is one, and then guest(s) of honor.
      • You should not have anything in your hands. Keeping your purse in your left hand is OK, but be sure to keep your right hand free and ready for lots of handshakes!
      • This is not the place for long conversation. Give a simple greeting and congratulations/thanks such as, “Congratulations, Sir/Ma’am! This is such an exciting/special day, thank you for including me.”
    • The Ceremonial Cake Cutting: If it is a service or Corps birthday, the youngest person and the oldest person serving at the command or who are members of that service cut the cake together using a traditional military sword. If it is a ceremony honoring someone (Change of Command, Promotion, Retirement), that individual will make the first cut in the cake using his/her sword.
    • The Reception
      • If you are attending on your own invitation, be sure to mingle with those you know, but also introduce yourself to new people. This can be a great networking opportunity.
      • If you are attending as someone’s date, take his/her lead on who you need to meet. He/she often has many officers or senior officials who are important to greet.
      • Again, be prepared to shake hands! Always leave your right hand free to shake hands by holding your drink/food (and purse if you have one) in your left hand.
        • A quick review on introductions! Extend your right hand, say “hello,” and introduce yourself using your first and last name.
      • Before leaving, always thank your host!

If you get invited to one of these ceremonies, I hope you take the opportunity to attend! Military ceremonies are beautiful, touching, and very patriotic. If you are attending as someone’s date, remember you are an extension and a reflection of your date – You will be meeting your date’s Chain of Command (his/her bosses) as well as the service members he/she leads and it is incredibly important to leave a positive impression on them. For all those attending, be polished, positive, and poised while also having a wonderful time and experiencing some great military traditions!

To conclude on a personal note, it’s been an amazing life growing up in a Navy family. I am incredibly proud of my dad and thankful for his service. With that, I would be remiss if I did not mention my mom in that same thought. I know my dad could not have succeeded as he did without her by his side. Dad and Mom, thank you both for your service. Wishing you “Fair Winds and Following Seas.” Go Navy! ⚓️

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

Interacting with Individuals Who Have Service Dogs

Through my work, I have the privilege of interacting with individuals who have service dogs as well as working alongside facility and therapy dogs. The other day, it was pointed out to me that a lot of people feel unsure about how to properly interact with service/working dogs. That inspired me to do some research and reach out to the people I know with service/working dogs. Here is what I learned along with some tips for the next time you interact with an individual with a service or working dog!

  1. Service and Working Dogs serve many purposes!
    • Guide/Seeing-Eye Dogs and Hearing Dogs assist their companion in navigating their surroundings and alerting them to situations needing attention (a car coming when they are attempting to cross a street, someone at the door, the fire alarm going off, etc.).

    • Service Dogs assist their companion living with other types of physical or mental disabilities (i.e. Mobility Assistance, Seizure Alert, Autism, Psychiatric Disabilities, etc). These disabilities may not always be apparent which is why it is important to be sensitive to the individual’s privacy.
      • I commonly see veterans with mobility service dogs who assist them with everything from pulling their wheelchairs to acting as a “brace” for someone with a prosthetic as they stand up or use the stairs. These dogs also assist with opening doors, turning on lights, retrieving things that have fallen or the service member/veteran is unable to pick-up, and so much more! These service dogs increase the service member’s/veteran’s independence and assist with re-integration.

        Service Dog, Bravo, bracing for his veteran as he uses the stairs.

    • K-9 and Military Units use working dogs to effectively secure areas, detect bombs/drugs/etc, and search for/track individuals.

    • Therapy/Facility Dogs are used in settings such as hospitals, mental health services, senior citizen/assisted living homes, universities, and schools/libraries for companionship and emotional support. Often times, these dogs presence helps to ease individual’s anxiety and bring a calming presence to a difficult situation.

      Therapy Dog, Bobbie, visiting patients at a hospital.

      Therapy Dog, Bobbie, visiting patients at a hospital.

    • A Major Distinction Between the Types:
      • A Service Dog is specifically paired with one individual to aide him/her with his/her disability and increase his/her independence. Ultimately, the dog is meant to assist it’s companion, not to be distracted or draw attention from others.
      • The job of a Therapy/Facility Dog is to interact with patients, the public, etc. and to be pet. They are handled by a facilitator who works with the dog in various settings with the public.
  2. Approach an individual with a service dog the same way you would someone without a service dog, but be aware of the following:
    • If the dog is a service dog, it should be wearing some type of vest/jacket, “backpack,” or harness. If the vest says, “Working Dog. Do not Pet.” then do not focus your attention towards the animal.
      • NOTE: K-9 Unit Dogs and Military Working Dogs should not be approached or distracted while they are “on duty.”
    • Before interacting with the dog, always ask it’s companion/handler if it is OK. Sometimes, interacting with the dog can disturb it’s focus and take away from the purpose he/she is serving for the owner/handler.
      • If the owner/handle does not want you to interact with the dog, do not become embarrassed or upset. The owner/handler has specific needs and reasons why it is not the appropriate time to interact with the dog.
    • Do not feed service dogs unless the owner/handler has given you permission. They are specifically trained with different methods and some only receive treats at certain times.
  3. It is OK to ask about the dog, but you should avoid asking about it’s purpose, especially when it is not obvious, because that is a personal matter.
    • If you are interested in the dog, you can ask questions such as:
      • What breed is your dog?
      • What is your dog’s name? (NOTE: Sometimes people will not answer this question so that the dog will not be called or respond to others)
      • How old is your dog?
      • Which organization trained your dog?
      • Have you worked with dogs in the past?
    • Do not ask personal or invasive questions such as:
      • Why do you have a service dog?
      • Is it necessary for you to have a service dog?
      • May I see it do something for you? (i.e. open the door, push a button, pick something up, etc.)
    • For business owners, restaurant/retail staff, etc. the only 2 questions you can legally ask according to the Americans with Disabilities Act are:
      • “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?”
      • “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”
      • “Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.”
  4. If you have a non-service dog with you and you come across someone who is using his/her service dog, do not let your dog interact with his/her service dog. Keep your dog under control and always ask if it is OK for your two dogs to interact prior to letting your dog have a little “freedom of the leash.”

Service Dogs are truly wonderful and have an amazing capacity to enhance the lives of their companions. Next time you come across an individual with a service dog, I hope these tips will serve you well!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra

The Meaning of Memorial Day

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day. To many people, this weekend marks the “unofficial start of summer” and an extra day off work; however, the real meaning of Memorial Day is to remember those service members who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom and this country. Here are a few things you can incorporate into your weekend celebrations in order to honor the true meaning of the day:

  1. Honor Those Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice. Whether you have a personal connection to this or are simply a grateful, patriotic American, take a moment to remember the service members who gave their lives to protect your own.
    • Participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at 3:00pm local time on Memorial Day. (Click here for more information)
    • Include a “We Remember” section at your Memorial Day gathering. The following is a simple and beautiful example:

      Photo Credit: Style Me Pretty

      Photo Credit: Style Me Pretty

  2. Be Sensitive to the Meaning of the Day. Often times you will hear service members say they feel uncomfortable when people thank them for their service – This is especially true on Memorial Day. While it is always a kind gesture to thank a veteran or active duty service member, many service members feel Memorial Day should focus solely on their brothers and sisters who lost their lives defending our country. **Please do not get me wrong – Thank service members for all they do, just be mindful of what Memorial Day represents to them.**
  3. Visit Your Local Veterans Cemetery. While many families keep their service member’s grave well maintained, there are several veterans that have no one to do so. Veterans groups often take on this responsibility, but a great way to show your appreciation is to assist with a cleanup or simply place a flag or flowers at the grave of fallen service members.
  4. Watch the National Memorial Day Concert.
  5. Fly the American Flag. 🇺🇸 The American flag is flown at half staff until noon on Memorial Day to honor the fallen then “at noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all” (Memorial Day Observance).
  6. If you are comfortable doing so publicly, share a photo/post a memorial message honoring a fallen service member. Memorial Day is meant to remember his/her sacrifice and celebrate his/her life and service to our country.

To the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, we are forever indebted. 🇺🇸

memorial day

Attending a Military Ball or Formal!

A couple weeks ago, I wrote “You Got Invited to a Military Ball!” Well, the time is here! In honor of the Marine Corps Birthday and Veterans Day next week, I am sharing my tips for attending a military formal. Now that you have done all the prep work to get ready, it is time to attend this fabulous and fun event!

  1. Arriving at the Ball
    • There’s no such thing as being fashionably late in the military. The military is a punctual culture and to them, arriving on time is arriving late.
      • Note: With that said, cocktail hour does give you a little wiggle room. If it starts at 6:00pm, you should arrive no later than 6:10pm. The cocktail hour is meant for mingling and you are expected to do so. The dinner and ceremony will run on a schedule and you typically do not get up to socialize during them.
    • Your date will escort you “arm-and-arm” on his/her right (the place of honor). Since it is a formal setting with a social aspect, it is unlikely he/she will be required to render salutes.
      • Service members are not allowed to hold hands in uniform and PDA in uniform is a “no go.”
    • If there is a receiving line, be prepared to shake hands (potentially a lot of them)
      • The first person in the line is the announcer. You simply tell the announcer your name and do not shake his/her hand. The host is next followed by the guest(s) of honor.
      • You should not have anything in your hands. If the receiving line is not at the front door, make sure you skip the bar and appetizers until after you go through the line. (A purse in your left hand is OK)
      • This is not the place for long conversation. Give a simple greeting and thanks such as, “Sir/Ma’am, it is so nice to meet you. Thank you for hosting me this evening.”
  2. Cocktail Hour
    • Follow your date’s lead on who you need to meet. He/she often has many officers or senior officials who are important to greet.
    • Again, be prepared to shake hands! Always leave your right hand free to shake hands by holding your drink/appetizers (and purse if you have one) in your left hand.
    • Once you are introduced by your date, extend your right hand, say “hello,” and introduce yourself using your first and last name.
    • Under no circumstance should you get drunk. Even though this is a social occasion, it is formal and in no way appropriate to drink too much. It is still the military and your date will get in trouble if something goes wrong or you do something inappropriate. Do NOT be the sloppy guest who needs taken care of and embarrasses his/her date and the host/hostess.
      • If you do not drink, that is perfectly acceptable! Do not let anyone pressure you.
      • If you do drink, I recommend 1 drink during cocktail hour, 1 drink during the course of the meal, and 1 drink post-dinner (dancing and mingling time).
    • During the cocktail hour, check the seating chart/place cards so you know where you to go once you enter the main room.
  3. The Dinner
    • Once you find your table, stand to the right of your seat. If seating is assigned, do not move your place card and rearrange the table. If it is not assigned, you will sit to your date’s right. Also, in social settings, you typically sit alternating men and women.
    • Once everyone for your table arrives, take your seat by entering your chair on the right side.
    • To review dining tips, please refer to my post “8 Foundational Dining Etiquette Tips.”
    • Be social with your table!
      • If you are seated with people you do not know, be sure to introduce yourself.
      • Do not gossip at the table. No one likes sitting next to the “mean girl” who comments on what everyone is wearing or makes snarky remarks about other people in attendance.
    • If you need to get up from the table, simply say “Excuse me for a moment.” No one needs to know if you have to use the restroom or need to step outside for something.
    • Do not play with your hair or apply make-up at the table.
  4. The Ceremony
    • Read the program! An overview of the service’s and event’s history is typically included as well as the background of your host and guest of honor (their bios will be in the program).
    • Parading the Colors: Stand while the American and service flag(s) are brought into the room and remain standing while they are present. The National Anthem will most likely be played as well. If so, face the flag with your hand over your heart. If the service’s song is played, you continue to stand, but you do not have to keep your hand over your heart. Do not sit until the colors are retired (paraded out of the room) and you are told to take your seat.
      • This is NOT the time to take photos. You should stand in respect of the flag and the playing of the National Anthem, not be snapping photos of the event while this is happening.
    • Invocation: The Chaplain will say a prayer to begin the evening.
    • Toasts: Giving toasts is usually a part of the ceremony. At the beginning of the toasts, your glass will be “charged” (filled with champagne). Typically, several people give toasts and your champagne is expected to last for all of the toasts. Take small sips for each toast to avoid running out!
      • If you do run out, each service has different traditions for this, but typically, you get “charged” a fine and no one wants to be that person!
    • The Ceremonial Cake Cutting (my favorite!):  The youngest person and the oldest person serving at the command or who are members of that service cut the cake together using a traditional military sword.
  5. Time to Dance!
    • Yes, there is a dance floor and yes, you can have fun!
      • With that said, remember there are a lot of “higher-ups” in the room. Reserve your getting low and sultry moves for the dance club.
    • I highly recommend keeping your shoes on. It is much more proper than going barefoot and even if you have not, taking your shoes off may give the impression you drank too much and are not able to keep your balance very well.
      • If you truly cannot dance in heels, you may bring a pair of flats and discreetly put them on in the restroom before hitting the dance floor.

If nothing else, the one thing I want you to take away from this post is: you are an extension and a reflection of your date for the evening. You will be meeting your date’s Chain of Command (his/her bosses) as well as the service members he/she leads and it is incredibly important to leave a positive impression on them. Smile at everyone you meet, enjoy the time with your date, and take this chance to learn about the history and tradition of the Service Branch and the Corps or specialty. Be polished, positive, and poised while also having a wonderful and fun evening!

Lastly, in honor of Veterans Day, please take the time to say thank you to those who have served and are currently serving in our Armed Forces. To the many service members with whom I have the privilege of working, the Wounded Warriors who I am honored to serve, all the men and women who wear and have worn the uniform, especially my Dad and Paps, thank you! Your service and sacrifice are appreciated more than words can express. God Bless America and all of you!

Sparkle On,

Alexandra